The blood and guts of Conference football returned to the New Rec as Grays Athletic played out a high octane draw against Kettering Town.
The total football/beautiful game philosophy was jettisoned as the team played a more hard nosed/ direct game attempting to get the ball up quickly to Charlie Ide and the fleet-footed Jamie Taylor.
In the 3rd minute Stuart Elliott fired in a fierce free kick but it was cleared by defender John Dempster.
This was a robust Kettering Town with a number of strong and tall Poppies. Branston and Dempster at the back lapped any ball that was simply hoofed up from the back.
But their route one defending should have given Grays a penalty in the 22nd minute when Guy Branston body checked Charlie Ide in the box but the referee waved play on.
Grays swept forward in numbers and looked impressive but Kettering showed good counter attacking instinct. In the 8th minute calm defending from Jon Ashton cleared up from a Jamie Stuart mistake. A minute later Adam Gross headed off the line.
Jamie Taylor had a perfect opportunity to score in the 31st but having leapt on the defensive mistake and with only the keeper to beat, he banged the ball over the bar.
Kettering became even more direct in the second half. Elliott cleared a dangerous ball in the box as the pressure piled on. Striker Jean Paul Marna’s darting runs became a threat.
Ishmael Welsh came more into the game and Barry Cogan tried to direct the game more. The temp was rising and what the team had jettisoned in tactics were made up for in entertainment.
In the 57th minute a stray ball saw Barry Cogan clear in the box but the shot was smothered by Guy Branston.
A Campana corner on the hour came to nothing as did last season’s Havant hero Alfie Potter at the other end.
Fans favourite Danny Kedwell came on at the hour mark and immediately made an impression. Having been substituted on saturday and benched today, the coaches clearly see something that we do not but he hustled bustled flicked and asked the questions of the Kettering defence that nobody else could have.
The breakthrough came in the 71st minute when the influential Ishmael Welsh put a dangerous ball into the box, Danny Kedwell found space, shot, his ball broke to Jamie Taylor whose shot deflected off Guy Branston into the net.
The lead lasted only seven minutes and Grays will be angry that it was a soft one as John Dempster outjumped Jon Ashton to put a speculative header over the leaden footed Steve Arnold.
Both teams went for the three points jugular and Grays thought they were going to get it when Jamie Taylor was upended in the box. After the referee booked four players including Taylor who quite clearly deserved to be booked for allowing himself to be dragged up from the ground by the throat.
Unfortunately, Danny Kedwell’s telegraphed the penalty to Lee Harper who easily dived to his right.
After the game Mike Woodward said: “This game was very frustrating. We were better than saturday and showed plenty of good points. Danny’s disappointed but we will move forward with confidence to saturday.”
It was clear the team went into the Weymouth game over-confident and had a big reality check. This game was about the realpolitik of Conference football. The coaching staff may have a nagging doubt that the sleek football may have the philosophy of “we’ll score one more than you” but to this seasoned Spurs watcher it has the potential to turn into the side Ardiles fashioned.
Players need time to bed in (Danny Kedwell last season being a case in point and there must be a danger he will turn back into that player if he isn’t given that status of starting)
The fans are already questioning Gier, Gross and Elliot. Some would say it s too early, would you liked to be judged after two days at work? others look to the long cv of Elliott and suggest that he is a stock squad player and not your water carrier.
The number of careless tackles is a concern as it gave both Weymouth and Kettering valuable set piece possession.
But these are very early days. Weymouth have six from six and Kettering are unbeaten. The coaching staff proved last year that they will not tinker but you can imagine Wilnis, Downer, Flitney and the seasoned Sloma entering the stage.
Report by Michael Casey
Thanks to Your Thurrock